The Mets’ courting of Stephen Drew has been the topic of the offseason since the team inked Chris Young, Curtis Granderson, and Bartolo Colon in December. But the sticking point in negotiations seems to be that the Mets don’t want to go beyond two guaranteed years for Drew and might even prefer to keep him to just one, which was reiterated most recently by Ken Rosenthal in a free agent rundown.
Drew will turn 31 in March, which puts him on the wrong side of 30, but not by much. Let’s say the Mets don’t blink, and Drew signs elsewhere on a multi-year deal.
In the short term, the shortstops on the Mets’ roster—Ruben Tejada and either Omar Quintanilla or Wilfredo Tovar—would be the same. Tejada should and likely would get the grand majority of the playing time at the position. He certainly took a big step back last year, but there’s only one way to find out if he can return to 2012 form, and that’s by letting him play regularly. But if Tejada doesn’t improve, what’s next?
If the Mets’ intent is to rely solely on prospects already in the organization, it might take a while to find a suitable shortstop. Amed Rosario drew praise for his 2013 season, but he only turned 18 in November and spent last season in Kingsport. There’s nothing wrong with that, obviously, but he’s likely several years away from the big leagues. When Jeffrey Paternostro saw him, he saw a very raw player with a ton of risk.
Here’s what John Sickels had to say about Rosario, who he recently ranked the Mets’ eighth-best prospect, at Minor League Ball:
Tough guy to grade. Scouts rave on the tools, both offensive and defensive, but he was mediocre statistically in the Appy League. Mediocre, but also extremely young at 17 and everyone who saw him was impressed with the physicality. Could be at the top of this list a year from now but there’s enough uncertainty to hold back a bit. Let’s give him some time.
Right behind Rosario on Sickels’ list is Gavin Cecchini, the Mets’ first-round pick in 2012. He spent last year in Brooklyn and hit .273/.319/.314. Jeffrey Paternostro wrote up Cecchini after seeing him play last year and came away with some concerns.
Here’s what Sickels had to say about Cecchini:
Don’t expect him to be a home run hitter, but defensive instincts stand out enough that he can still be a regular if his bat is only adequate. He’ll be moving into a tough hitting environment at Savannah though.
Cecchini just turned 20 and is expected to start the year with Low-A Savannah. He’s higher up the minor league ladder than Rosario, but he’s not close to the majors, either.
As for the rest of the team’s shortstops, Wilfredo Tovar got a cup of coffee with the Mets after Tejada broke his leg late last year. He spent the rest of last season with the Double-A Binghamton Mets and posted a .633 OPS for them. Matt Reynolds spent all but one game with High-A Port St. Lucie with a .639 OPS, and Phillip Evans spent the year in Savannah with a .531 OPS.
In short, there’s no obvious internal successor to Ruben Tejada on the horizon.
The trickiest thing about free agents is that they might not actually hit free agency. And under the current collective bargaining agreement, the good ones get qualifying offers and require a new team to forfeit its highest unprotected draft pick if signed. Despite the risk, there’s a chance that the 2014-15 class of free agents is more appealing to the Mets than Drew.
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J.J. Hardy was worth 3.4 fWAR in 2013, as he hit 25 home runs and played highly-rated defense at short. He spent five years with the Brewers and one with the Twins, who inexplicably traded him to the Orioles, where he’s been since 2011. By the time he potentially hits free agency, he’ll be 32, which is hardly ancient but a year older than Drew. His track record is superior, though. Even if he hits free agency, he could get a qualifying offer from Baltimore.
Presumably a much more costly free agent, Hanley Ramirez just turned 30 in December. When he played last year, he was outstanding, posting 5.1 fWAR in just 336 plate appearances. Even if the Mets suddenly find themselves swimming in money and the Dodgers don’t extend Ramirez before the season ends, it’s hard to see him ending up in Queens. He will certainly get a qualifying offer from the Dodgers if it comes to that. If Derek Jeter retires, the luxury-tax-paying Yankees almost seem like too obvious a match for him.
As for the rest of the group, Jed Lowrie, who turns 30 in April, could be appealing, but last year, his sixth in the big leagues, was his first fully healthy season. He played 154 games but averaged 71 over the first five seasons of his career. Asdrubal Cabrera will turn 29 in November, but he’s been a bit up and down over his career. His best season came in 2011, as he had 3.6 fWAR. It wouldn’t be outlandish for either player to get a qualifying offer, though they’re not locks for it, either.
If the Mets intend to wait until the 2015-16 offseason to sign a shortstop, Yunel Escobar could hit the market then, assuming the Rays pick up his very reasonable $5 million option in 2015. Ian Desmond, who’s been worth an even 5.0 fWAR each of the past two years with the Nationals, is due for free agency after 2015, too.
If the Mets’ starting pitching depth pans out the way the team expects, Sandy Alderson could trade from that pool of players to acquire a shortstop. The Mets have not traded away young players yet under Alderson, but a true surplus could make that happen. But the ideal trade targets—Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes—might not be fits, whether it’s because their current team isn’t looking to trade them or the Mets aren’t willing to give up what it takes to acquire either player. And the Mets could have had Reyes for just the cost his contract a couple years ago.
In total, there’s no perfect solution at shortstop. If Drew signs elsewhere, Tejada gets at least a full season at short with the Mets and maybe two. Unless Tejada really puts together a great season, Hardy seems the most desirable shortstop among the realistic options. There’s just no guarantee that he, or any of the other aforementioned shortstops, will actually be available.